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Five Easy Ways to Support Your Child’s Science Learning

October 26, 2021

by Lindsey Flannery

Think that your elementary-aged child is getting all the science learning they need in the classroom? Think again. While elementary school is arguably the most important time for science learning, in-depth science classes often don’t begin until 5th grade, when public school students take their first standardized science test. However, a report based on a review of 150 studies shows that very young children, even infants, can grasp complex science concepts[1]

It’s truly simple to encourage your child’s curiosity and learning about science concepts at home, at all ages. Like all things that support our children’s growth, there is an investment of time and attention, but a little goes a long way here.

1) Meet your child’s questions with curiosity. 

“Mom, how do airplanes fly?” When your child asks a question like this, it shows they are thinking about how the world works. You can respond in a way that encourages their scientific thinking. “It’s amazing that something so heavy can stay up in the air, isn’t it! How do you think it works?” Your excitement encourages theirs.

Explain concepts in an age-appropriate way (this may be as simple as: “the way the air rushes around the wings lifts the plane up!”), and encourage them to share their observations. Young children may not need a detailed answer; they may just be excited to share something that interests them. If you don’t know the answer, don’t fret! It creates an opportunity to…

2) Find the answers together. 

What is your child’s favorite game to play? Probably any game that Mom or Dad is playing with them. Our children crave our attention, interest and loving care. They need it. It’s no different when it comes to learning: they’re going to be more excited about finding the answer if it’s something you do together.

Yes, you can get creative: you can find a project to demonstrate the concept of lift, for example. But don’t be afraid to use the magical device in your pocket. Watching a YouTube video together, or simply looking at pictures or reading the answer together and then talking about it are all wonderful ways to encourage science learning in young kids.

For a three-year-old, maybe the answer about the airplane turns into a game of “airplane” where you lift them up with your feet into the air while you both giggle. With an older elementary child, perhaps they make a paper airplane and you talk about how the concept of “lift” works in this case. Again, your attention and interest make all the difference!

3) Give your child opportunities to explore. 

Do you feel like you’re pulled in every direction by your kids’ many organized activities? Here’s a solid reason to cut back: kids need free play. Free, unstructured play builds the foundation for science learning because it’s fun, natural and self-driven. 

Plus, children learn best through doing and trying things for themselves. Free play time is when they have the opportunity to make observations about the world around them. This piques their curiosity, while also giving them the cognitive skills and drive to find the answers. While your interest and excitement are key as discussed above, free play is the time to step back, hold off on answering questions too quickly, and see what your child can do!

4) Understand that exploration will often be messy.

We all know those parents from social media: always engaging their kids in crafts, experiments, baking, art, and nature adventures. You wonder how they do it all, but it often comes down to one simple thing: they have decided to tolerate the mess. If you can, too, you’ll be able to open a whole new world of fun and engagement in science learning. 

At home, cover work areas with drop cloths or tarps. Have a big science and craft tote (or dedicated cupboard) full of supplies you often use, so you can quickly pull it out and quickly clean up. Outdoors, dress your children in old clothes and don’t admonish them when they jump in the mud. Communicate that it’s okay to get dirty. Children will have a blast, and you’ll appreciate the break from telling them “no” on repeat.

5) Encourage further inquiry.

Talk about scientific and mathematical concepts at every opportunity: when cooking, watching sports, filling the gas tank, hiking, grocery shopping, or other everyday activities. Take your child to museums and science centers! :)

Also: you don’t need to spend a lot of money to do science experiments at home. Check out Kidzeum’s activity ideas and inspiration for simple science projects to do with your kids. Plus, here are a couple science concepts your child can explore with items you probably already have on hand:

LEGO person parachute

Explore the concepts of gravity and air resistance with a LEGO person parachute! All you need is a coffee filter, floss, and a lego person. First, have your child drop the LEGO person from a second floor balcony or other height to see what happens: she will smash! Then add your parachute and watch her float gently to the floor thanks to the air resistance provided.

Instructions:

1. Cut two lengths of dental floss about a foot each (or test out different lengths to add to the science lesson).

2. Loop each string under the LEGO person’s arms.

3. Make two small holes in the coffee filter, one toward the front and one toward the back (lightly fold filter in half to make even holes).

4. Push the ends of the dental floss (one end through each of the four holes) and secure with a tiny piece of tape.

5.  Time to test out your mini parachute and let her fly!

Moldy bread experiment

Explore the ideal conditions for mold growth! Put identical slices of bread in their own sealed sandwich bags, then put them in different conditions (one on counter, one in the freezer, one in a warm place, etc.) and check on them after a few days to see which grew the most mold the fastest. 

For another version, rub separate slices of bread on different surfaces (hands, shoes, TV remote, phone, etc.), then put each one in its own sealed sandwich bag on the counter, and label it. Here, with all the slices in the same environment, you’ll observe how bacteria introduced from the different surfaces affect mold growth. Make sure to encourage kids to record their observations!

In conclusion, science learning doesn’t have to be formal, or difficult, or even well-organized. Your child will benefit from your shared curiosity, finding the answers together, and plenty of free play time to explore and get dirty. An occasional organized experiment or exploration will be memorable and impactful. Have fun!

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[1] Helen Shwe Hadani, Ph.D and Elizabeth Rood, Ed.D. The Roots of STEM Success: Changing early learning experiences to build lifelong thinking skills. The Center for Childhood Creativity (2018): https://bayareadiscoverymuseum.org/resources/publications

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